RIYADH: The full line-up for the four-race stc International Jockeys Challenge (IJC) is nearing completion with the addition of leading US-based rider John Velazquez, who will also compete the following day at the showpiece 2021 Saudi Cup.
This year’s stc International Jockeys Challenge takes place on Friday, Feb. 19, the day before the $20 million Saudi Cup, and the jockeys will be made up of seven international women, two local men, and five international men.
The prize money in each of the four races will be $400,000 and there is a $100,000 pot for the Challenge with $30,000 going to the winner.
Velazquez said: “I’m excited to take part in the IJC, it’s a fun concept. I did one in Japan once and I also went to a challenge in Turkey. We used to do it in Texas a long time ago as well.”
The 49-year-old rider will take on 13 other jockeys in the IJC, before riding Tacitus, owned by the late Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms, in the world’s richest horse race on Saturday, Feb. 20. And it will not be the Puerto Rican jockey’s first appearance at the King Abdul Aziz Racetrack in Riyadh.
“I was last in Saudi six or seven years ago and I was very impressed with the track. The dirt was nice and smooth, they did a really good job with it,” he added.
Velazquez landed a first Breeders’ Cup Classic in November with Authentic, the horse who had given him a third Kentucky Derby just two months earlier, but the pilot is no stranger to international success, winning the 2005 Dubai World Cup on Roses in May and the 2017 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot with Lady Aurelia.
He said: “I love these big international races where lots of people come together from all over the world. It’s great to meet everyone and I’m just glad to be a part of it.
“The Saudi Cup is a great concept and they pulled it off well last year. It’s really good for the sport to have the eyes of the world watching this meeting.”
Bill Mott’s Tacitus, who finished fifth in the inaugural edition of the Saudi Cup 12 months ago, will be his mount in the world’s most valuable race on Saturday, Feb. 20.
“Tacitus ran a good race last year and hopefully we can get a better position in the first part of the race. He is perhaps better over slightly further but he does have the speed to be fairly close to the front runners.
“There are some very good horses to beat like Knicks Go and Charlatan, they look really tough and like to go forward. Hopefully, they go too fast and we can sit not too far back before coming down the lane,” he added.
In a career that has spanned more than 30 years, it is clear what adding a Saudi Cup to his glittering resume would mean to Velazquez, particularly in the iconic Juddmonte colors.
“It would be incredible. To get your hands on a $20 million race, we all dream of that, hopefully Tacitus can do it. Prince Khalid Abdullah has been such a great asset for the sport all around the world and we are all going to miss him,” he said.
Twelve of the 14 riders have now been confirmed with the remaining two local jockeys due to be announced soon.
List of confirmed riders for the stc International Jockeys Challenge:
Sibylle Vogt, 25 (SUI)
Jorge Ricardo, 59 (BRA)
Jessica Marcialis, 30 (ITA)
Maria Lujan Asconiga, 27 (ARG)
Nieves Garcia, 43 (SPA)
Cristian Demuro, 28 (ITA)
Nanako Fujita, 23 (JPN)
Malin Holmberg, 30 (SWE)
Shane Foley, 32 (IRE)
William Buick, 32 (UK)
Hollie Doyle, 24 (UK)
John Velazquez, 49 (PR)